Friday, 14 December 2012

Dog Diaries

Our shoots have been scheduled on the 'feast or famine' program: a week off, three intensive days, another week off, another crazy weekend. I rotate the dog teams so they don't get too tired. Last Friday's team was Pip, Spud and Dulcie - a formidable pack.

Pip the yellow lab is getting older, but she's experienced. She knows where a wounded bird is likely to hide, she can mark more than one retrieve, and she works nice and steady. With her hip dysplasia, one day's work for Pip means two days off to recuperate in front of the wood stove. 

I can hear her snoring over the crackling of the wood

Spud is a retriever par excellence. Quirky but honest. I know when she has brought me a wounded bird, because she lays down with it, instead of sitting and giving it to me. I think because she can hold it down with a big paw if it flaps and struggles.

Spud works out problems and finds her own unique solutions. At the end of a work day, I put a wool dog coat on Spud to keep her joints warm. When she's sufficiently warm and dry, she simply chews through the strap and deposits the coat in her bed, ready for collection (and repair) rather than wait for me to take it off of her. I stitch the strap back on for the next shoot day. 

Look at their concentration -

Pip and Spud are watching pheasants flying over, looking for injured or fallen birds. I adore my retrievers.

Spaniels are a different gun dog. Adrenaline-fuelled workaholics. Dulcie is a come early, stay late dog. She has her own way of telling me that she's spotted a wounded bird and please let her go get it. Now. Pleasepleasepleaseplease.

She jumps on me and implores me with those eyes. Those spaniel eyes. 

She knows when birds are hit birds. I know if I let her go, she'll bring me back a bird with just a few pellets in its leg, or a wing tip out. I don't know how she does it. 

By the last drive Dulcie had debris in her eyes and was getting cold sat marking birds on top of a windy hillside. It didn't slow her down or dim her enthusiasm, but I took off my coat and put it around her anyway, until it was time to work again. 

She surely needed it more than I did.

Quincy, Podge and Dakota came out on Saturday's shoot, picking up and beating (driving birds from cover). I'm trying Quincy in all different permutations, to see which dogs she compliments and works best with as a team. So far, she's fit in with every scenario, and with all jobs.

Quincy went in the beating line Monday for her first full day as a beating dog. As a beating dog, Quincy is expected to hunt and flush birds close to her handler, and come back as soon as I whistle her in. Basically, be a well-behaved little dog. Apart from one minor infraction when she scented a fox and ran on to investigate, Quincy did great for such a young dog. She will be 2 years old on Christmas day.

Quincy has another job to do this time of year: duck flighting. On the road between the sheep and horse fields, there is a small pond that we use for duck shooting. The ducks are fed in to encourage them to take up residence. We don't want the ducks to become too domesticated, so we rouse them off the pond and stir them up a bit.

That's where a water-loving, energetic Labrador comes in handy -

She's flushed the ducks once, and she's now waiting for them to circle around and land back on the pond. She waits for the command to 'Get on' and throws herself into the icy water, sending ducks back up into the air again. A few minutes of this is enough for the ducks, but Quincy would spend all day here if I let her.
Today Quincy worked with Podge the cocker spaniel and Dulcie, in the driving rain. Tomorrow Pip will have to drag her little yellow butt off the sheepskin rug and do a day's work with Spud.

For work, for companionship, and for the laughs - I just don't know what I would do without my dogs.


janice bendixen said...

My dog doesn't work. Her only job is keeping me sane. Lovely post Jenn.

SavvyChristine said...

I love these posts about dogs and shooting days. I mean, I'm a fan of all your posts and the way you let us readers into your life a little at a time -- but the dogs? My faves. Makes me feel like I'm there and that I could do what you do too. :)

Seester said...

I am so jealous. I need to find a way to get a dog. Which I think means buying a house. Which means moving somewhere that I can afford a house (i.e.- nowhere I'd want to live). So no dog until I win the lottery or get hit by some 24-year-old tech CEO's Tesla. I'm practicing my tuck-and-roll so that the dog I get isn't a service dog.
Incidentally, do you still work Jazzie, or is she retired?

Robin Follette said...

Ah! So much help! I'm learning about different breeds and methods of working gun dogs in preparation for one of my own in a few years. I haven't decided yet on upland game or water but leaning toward the upland game breeds to help me hunt grouse.

Jennifer Montero said...

Oh sure, you're dog works - she's a service dog. Sanity is important.

Jennifer Montero said...

If you took my dogs out, you could do exactly what I do - stand there and let them do all the work, then drive them home and feed them. Easy! So glad you enjoy the dog stories.

Jennifer Montero said...

Seester - There are breeds of dog especially for city living that want to sit on the couch and hate going outside when it rains. What about one of those? Did you learn nothing from having Tiffany? (besides don't name your dog 'Tiffany')

Jazz has been doing summer dog work, then came into season (touting for a baby daddy) so she's waiting it out. I can hear her howling in the kennels from anywhere on the estate on shoot days. My neighbours are gonna put flaming poop on my doorstep...

Jennifer Montero said...

Robin - Do tell! What breed are you leaning towards?

Seester said...

It's not the apartment living- it's that SF landlords raise the price for apartments that allow dogs (and these are rare finds) by about 20%. So I could expect to pay about $2500/month (1545 pounds) for a small 1-bedroom. Add on the $500 non-refundable pet fee, and $300/month to have someone come walk the dog mid-day, and the vet bills and the food/toys/occasional boarding... we just can't afford it. On the other hand, "what price sanity?"